How I Won the Minnesota Statehouse, By Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente As Told to Garrison Keillor
Long before the age of Trump, citizens of Minnesota were subjected to a governor cut from a similar cloth: Jesse Ventura. Garrison's clever satirical novel feels as relevant today as it did back then! Here is an excerpt from Garrison Keillor's satirical novel ME By Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente):
At International World Wrestling, I, Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente, was the headliner, Mr. Magnificent, the Boss Man.
I brought wrestling into the modern age.
I was the one who introduced rock-and-roll. I was the first to use loops of accordion wire in place of ropes. I was the one who introduced pyrotechnics. A flaming genius! Every night it was a Ring of Fire! I was the first to employ sweat-seeking cruise missiles in the ring. The first to use explosives: we liked to have one wrestler throw another in a Dumpster and blow it up. Our slogan was ''Come See Extreme Wrestling -- No Children Under 6 -- Not for the Squeamish -- Don't Wear Your Good Clothes.'' The blood flowed, the monster truck roared, the ring burst into flames and the fans went away happy. I was sitting on top of the world, earning millions, getting a million hits a day at jimmybigboy.com.
Wrestling gets hard when you pass 40, though. Your back hurts from lifting 300-pound guys and heaving them into the seats.
One night in the Boston Garden, Hump Hooley and I fought a marathon tag-team match against the Messenger of Death and Mr. Disaster, a real shorts-scorcher involving quarts of blood, thousands of vampire bats, a pack of rabid wolves, six suicide bombers from Hamas and 12 Tomahawk missiles, and in the finale I hoisted the Messenger over my head and heaved him into the turnbuckle, only to have him ignite a moat of gasoline around the ring, and I passed out from the fumes and lay unconscious, the flames licking at my feet, death near at hand -- and then pain awakened me! I leapt up and called in an air strike on myself! The cruise missiles came straight at me! Smoke and flames! Utter confusion! And when the smoke cleared, there was a heap of ashes in the middle of the burning ring where I had been! The crowd screamed: ''No! No! Not Big Boy!'' And then I jumped up and brushed the ashes away and Old Glory descended from the rafters and I took hold of a corner and was lifted to safety as the ring exploded and burned.
When the match was done, I lay on the dressing-room floor, too tired to shower. The Messenger of Death brought me a beer and Hump helped me into a chair. I glanced at myself in a mirror and was shocked at the grayness and blankness of me, the fatuous look in the eyes, as if I were on powerful medications. Or else, as if I wasn't and should be. I looked like a snake that had swallowed a dog.
''Loved the flag bit,'' Hump said. ''Write that into the act from now on.''
I said, ''Boys, I believe I need a vacation.''
In the morning, I went to a doctor who diagnosed a nasty case of testosterone poisoning. The pills I took to keep my energy up were causing a metabolic vasodilatation of the nerve endings. I was getting numb above the neck.
One night in Dallas, a man sat waiting for me in the dressing room and stood as I entered and extended his hand and said: ''Jimmy, I am Earl Woofner, the chairman of the Ethical Party of Minnesota. And I've come a thousand miles to say that our state needs a man like you.''
My skull glittered with sweat, my pink tights were spattered with blood and I was wearing a peacock-feather headdress, cobalt blue shades and a cape with 600 flashing light bulbs. Plus, a python named Virg draped around my neck. Earl did not flinch.
He set down his briefcase and sat on a bench and looked up at me with utter sincerity and said: ''The people of Minnesota are crying out for a champion to break the liberal choke hold and open up politics to common sense and honesty. And I am looking at him.''
I took off the glasses and set down the snake.
''What about it, Jimmy?'' he said. ''The troops are ready. When do we get the order to march?''
By rights I should be a Democrat, because I am for the little guy, but the Democrats are run by yuppie liberals trying to remake American society into a day-care center for adults. Making folks stand outdoors to smoke a cigarette. Making a teacher fill out a 14-page questionnaire if she says boo to a kid. Labels on beer cans warning that alcohol is not good for your health and may cause you to fall down on the floor.
The Democrats started out with the New Deal, a good idea for its time, and then delusions of grandeur led them to keep adding on to it, like a guy who sets out to make carbonara sauce and starts throwing sausage and peppers and onions in, and pretty soon you've got hearts of palm and peas and anchovies and water chestnuts and pineapple swimming around in it and the thyme and oregano are at toxic levels and nobody is hungry anymore. That's the Democratic platform. Programs for everything -- programs to combat grumpiness, stupidity, discrimination, covetousness, improper lane changes, low math scores, flat beer, poor taste and too much air in the Cracker Jack box, and all of the programs require battalions of social workers and reams of paper.
So I look to the Republicans, and what do I see? The Me First Party: squeeze the maximum profit out of everything, strip it clean, gouge what you can, clear-cut the forest, to hell with everybody else -- lay off the 20-year guys and hire cheap replacements, cut costs, inflate the stock, sell out, make your pile, leave town, head for your compound in Palm Springs, buy an electronic security system and a team of Rottweilers, sit around the swimming pool, enjoy your brains out and feel no more remorse than a fruit fly.
So I thought, What the heck, why not the Ethical Party, a grab bag of bikers and bird-watchers and disgruntled dishwashers and surly seniors and people who call in to talk shows to gripe about the mailman.
It was May 1998. I took a week off from the I.W.W. tour and got in my Porsche with the ''Mess With the Best, Die With the Rest'' bumper sticker and took a run around Minnesota to think about the governorship.
I prefer the gravel roads, where you can make time, roads that would shake your fillings out at 30, but at 140 you fly over the bumps like melted butter. From Moorhead to Worthington, on some of those straight stretches, I held it at 200 for a while. I think better when I'm moving fast.
I cruised the state and I pondered the future.
Out in the country, farmers were in hock and going broke, having bought fancy combines at 20 percent interest, and now the price of corn was bottoming out and the loans were coming due. In the cities, the factories had gone south and the old factory buildings were turned into restaurants serving lamb chops the size of chickadees, plus an artichoke and a small red potato, for $30.
I saw a picture of a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, eating tofu at a fund-raiser and wearing a T-shirt that said ''I Really Could Use a Hug Right Now.'' And a picture of a Republican hopeful dedicating a milk-producing plant where 40,000 genetically engineered Holsteins, heavily sedated and lying on canvas slings and fed with stomach tubes, could produce two million gallons per day.
I called Earl Woofner. ''I can't do it,'' I said. ''I am not a politician. I don't have the stomach for it.''
''That is your strong suit, your honest independent nature,'' he said. ''Sleep on it. Call me tomorrow. The brochure is at the printer's, ready to go. The 'Jimmy for Governor' beer is bottled, all we have to do is slap on the labels.''
That morning, as I often do when I'm on the road and have an extra minute, I dropped by the local hospital to visit children, and as it happened, there was one, a 12-year-old boy named Tommy, who had lost his left hand in a corn picker.
''Big Boy,'' he said, ''how can I grow up to become a wrestler without a left hand?''
I told him: ''You can be anybody you want to be. Don't ever give up. And it would be a great gimmick. Tommy (the Talon) Anderson. Jump in the ring with your eagle-feather headdress and clack your prosthetic device and get the audience to chant, 'He fought the claw and the claw won.' ''
He was a chipper little guy, and he looked up at me and said, ''How did you become what you wanted to be, Big Boy?''
And I was about to say, ''By sheer determination and imagination,'' and then I thought: ''Hey, I'm not there yet. I want to be Governor. For once in my life, I want to be taken seriously.'' And I looked down at his freckled face on the pillow and said, ''Tommy, I came here to help you out, and instead you helped me.''
I called my wife, Lacy, and told her I had decided to run for Governor.
There was a long breath of a pause, and she said: ''Fine, but I don't campaign. I don't do the candidate's wife thing at all. No fund-raisers, so don't even ask.'' I understood, I said.
''Why are you doing this?'' she asked. I said I was tired of people making fun of me for wearing pink-feather boas.
Felix, my promoter, offered to manage my campaign. Felix is a hatchet-faced little guy with a toupee that looks like a raccoon that got crushed by a semi. He favors livid green-plaid sport coats and is very sallow and liverish looking, all splotches and rheum and exploded capillaries, a stub of a cigarette smoldering on his lower lip.
''No, thanks,'' I said.
I put on my Australian bush hat, my running shoes and my ''Gopher It'' T-shirt, and for five months I rode around Minnesota in a motor home, green, the interior a soft beige that reminded me of the inner thighs of a woman I met once in Miami, and lived on Cheez Doodles, Ho Hos and root beer, which gave me so much gas I could hardly keep my socks up, and addressed every Kiwanis Club, Elks, Moose, Jaycees, Sons of Norway, Knights of Columbus, V.F.W. and Eastern Star that cared to hear me and roamed the coffee shops and Kmarts, handing out literature, pressing the flesh, chewing the fat.
I told the people: ''I am not a joke, I am a decent clean person you could bring home and not be embarrassed by. Yes, I wore a pink boa and gave flying mules and nipple lifts and atomic handshakes, not to mention the deadly and infamous Long Nap, and will employ them against the Special Interests. I am no smarter than anybody else and I don't claim to have all the answers, but it ain't nuclear physics and I will work hard and accept no special privileges, and what I don't know about state government, I'll know a month after I take office.''
My platform was exactly as follows:
1. I will not tell a lie.
2. I make no promise except to do my best.
3. Any tax surplus goes straight back to you, the folks.
4. I will scorn Big Business and Special Interests in favor of you, the taxpayer and voter. The trough is closed.
5. There will be action, not just a lot of yik-yakking.
6. No weenies need apply.
7. Let's party.
Career politicians like to act as if government is the Mystery of Mysteries, unknowable except to the Grand Pooh-bahs of the Sacred Elect. Well, I came out of the weeds to face a weaselly Democrat and a wascally Wepublican who each thought he was a great statesman and I was the idiot with the hump, and I ate their lunch.
I destroyed my opponents in the televised debates. I hung them out to dry.
The weaselly Democrat talked about government needing to create jobs. I said: ''There used to be a country for people like you, but it doesn't exist anymore. Its capital was Moscow.''
He whimpered and looked toward the corner of the studio, where his advisers and pollsters were standing, holding his cue cards. They were helpless to save him.
The Wepublican was a scrawny runt with one wet finger in the wind who used the word ''family'' in every sentence, as if this might win him an Amana gas range, and said he favored social welfare programs if they ''strengthened the family.'' I leaned forward and said, ''You flat-headed, fish-eyed, sap-sucking belly-scratcher, all you do is bark when the big boys yank your chain.''
I said, ''If a person is smart enough to live in Minnesota, then he is smart enough to take care of his own self and not look around for a handout.''
Nobody else dared to say it plain like that.
And in gratitude, the people of Minnesota put me in the Governor's office.
I was sworn in on Monday, Jan. 4, and the national press was fawning all over me. Newsweek, Time, you name it. Al Gore phoned that morning and wished me luck. ''Thanks, Al,'' I said. ''See you in Iowa.'' He had a coughing fit. We had a fabulous inaugural ball at the Civic Center, at which I appeared at the end of the arena, in a spotlight, standing on a tiny platform a hundred feet in the air, and lowered myself hand over hand down a length of barbed wire to the stage, where I stripped to the waist and bench-pressed 400 pounds, and then some blues bands played for five hours and we sold 30,000 gallons of ''Jimmy Big Boy'' beer and 12,000 ''Love the Gov'' T-shirts.
I'd like to see any governor match me for merchandise sales. I'd like to see Al Gore sell half of the shirts I sold.
Al Gore is obsolete. The fringe is the center now. TV has made a joke of politics, and a joker like me can beat a stuffed owl like Al. He is living in the 19th century, when the President stood at a lectern and read a speech in a big pipe-organ voice and everyone listened and nobody's dog barked. Those days are gone.
And he is disadvantaged by being Bill's Best Friend.
He is a cigar-store Indian, and I look forward to whipping the pants off him in New Hampshire and Iowa. Two independent states full of notoriously cranky voters who delight in depantsing the anointed front-runner and sending his gravy train onto a sidetrack. Al will be the 10-to-1 favorite, and when he falls he will crumble. When he garners 18 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, compared with 52 percent for the 300-pound candidate with the big pink noggin, I am going to enjoy watching him go on TV to explain what happened, like your kid explaining why the car went in the ditch on a bright June day.
Al will wind up running the Ford Foundation and I will be a President you can be proud of and land in Air Force One and inspect honor guards and do my duty, and none of that groping in the West Wing -- I will do mine upstairs in the First Bedroom.
The thought of Inauguration Day 2001 keeps me toasty warm on these cold winter nights.
I'll be sitting ramrod-straight in my seat on the flag-draped platform before the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., dressed in my black suit and Led Zeppelin T-shirt, a big wad of Copenhagen in my cheek, and on the back of my big bare head I'll feel, like dancing snowflakes, the cold glares from all the big bonzos in the seats behind me and I'll smile my Big Boy smile to the cameras on the platform, and then, after one of those mealy-mouthed ''O Thou Who Didst Once on the Sea of Galilee'' prayers read by some pathetic dope in a collar, I'll stand and raise my right hand and place my left hand with the World Tag-Team Champion gold ring on the third finger upon the Holy Bible held by my foxy wife, Lacy, and look Chief Justice Billy (the Robe) Rehnquist straight in his black cobra eyes and shift the wad into the left corner of my mouth and vow to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and then turn to give Lacy a smooch and hug my daughter, Tiffany, and my son, Adrian, and shake hands with Bill and Hillary and squeeze Al Gore's hand, maybe bear down a little until his eyes water and he looks queasy, and say, ''Tough luck, buddy boy,'' and hold my arms up so that my supporters out in the cheap seats can see me, and I'll cock my ear to that distant cry of ''Jimm-ee, Jimm-ee, Jimm-ee!'' and turn to go to the limo and look up and see every senator and congressman and justice and ex-President and ambassador standing, mouth open, in shock and confusion, as if they had just witnessed the explosion of the Hindenberg, wondering, ''How did this happen?''
It's called democracy, boys.
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